City budget includes Montlake transit, pedestrian studies + new bicycle counter

Fremont Bridge bicycle counter installed last month. Similar equipment will inform planning for the new 520 Montlake interchange. Image: John Lok/The Seattle Times

The City Council passed two budget items on Friday to further study pedestrian, bicycle and transit mobility through the Montlake corridor. These studies will help the City determine the best options for integrating local transportation with WSDOT’s plans for replacing SR-520.

The funding includes $160,000 for a transit reliability study to identify causes of delay and propose solutions along a 2.5 mile corridor — from 23rd & John on Capitol Hill to 15th & Pacific in the U-District. An additional $60,000 will go towards a pedestrian and bicycle feasibility study, looking at options to improve access over the Montlake Cut. Included are two counters to track walkers and bikers across the Montlake Bridge.

Transportation consultants Nelson/Nygaard will conduct the studies, following up their September report on triggers for a second Montlake Bridge that lead Council to delay construction plans for the foreseeable future. The report concluded that the Montlake Bridge is not the primary source of congestion in the corridor because it only carries around two-thirds of its theoretical limit (3500 vehicles per hour). Instead, congestion is caused by the many red lights, merge lanes, left turn lanes, bus stops, pedestrian crosswalks and so on, that lead to the bridge.

The September report also gave failing grades to the Montlake corridor for pedestrian and bicycle access — although not without an important caveat: there simply isn’t enough data for reliable results. Thus, the new bike/ped counters will finally give planners the information they need to make evidence based decisions. Like the Fremont Bridge, Montlake will be wired to count bikes (likely with different equipment), setting up a foot race to be Seattle’s top bicycling bascule bridge.

What to do then once the numbers are in? Nelson/Nygaard will specifically look at options to expand bike/ped capacity over the Montlake Cut — by retrofitting wider sidewalks onto the existing bridge, or by adding a second pedestrian and bicycle bridge next to the existing, or by building a fixed span across the east end of the Cut. Hard data will certainly help quell the inevitable controversies with all three of these options. The feasibility study is due in July 2013.

As a side note, here are results for this year’s annual volunteer count of pedestrian and bicycle crossings of the Montlake Bridge:

7-9am: 358 peds + 281 bikes = 639 total

4-6pm: 481 peds + 402 bikes = 883 total

Of the cyclists, 22 were without helmets.

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